As a child growing up in various cities and towns, Britt Rutgers exhibits both acute sensitivity and an insatiable ebullience that expresses itself in rebelliousness against his restrictive parents. But something profoundly important is missing deep inside. As he moves into his late teens in the 1950s on a farm near Mayfield, Iowa, his enthusiasm gradually morphs into agonizing self-consciousness, feelings of guilt, embarrassment over sexual naïveté, and fear wrought by his fundamentalist religious upbringing. His parents have always placed his quiet older brother on a pedestal, and Britt begins to emulate him. Battling these internal demons, Britt is unable to concentrate and becomes panicky that he will fail his school subjects.
When Britt heads out for a night of bowling in February of his senior year, he has no idea that everything is about to change. Taunted by his friends, he returns home and tearfully confides to his parents that he has been miserable for some time. They send him to a sanitarium, where he is quickly diagnosed with schizophrenia and shock treatments are begun. Over the next several years, between two periods spent in psychiatric institutions observing a plethora of colorful, and tragic, characters, Britt struggles not merely to function, but to flourish.
Breaking Out explores a family's dynamics and history, revealing the forces that shape an innocent child and make a train wreck of his crossing from adolescence into adulthood.